Continuing with the theme of extension begun by Ryan earlier this week, the Orioles have two other interesting extension candidates who will become free agents after the 2015 season. Before this season, an extension with either player is likely to command at least 100 million of commitment. This is not the case anymore. Both have suffered lost seasons, one due to significantly worse performance and one due to a season-ending Tommy John surgery. Of course, I am talking about Chris Davis and Matt Wieters. While we should understandably lament their lack of impact on the O's current playoff hopes, their down season and injury provide a window for the O's to extend them at a discount.
For very obvious reasons, few players have signed extensions amid or after a down season or a significant injury. Players are unwilling to sign extensions when their perceived values are at the lowest. Teams, subject to recency bias, would not extend players whose current production suggests players unworthy of future investment. In fact, I cannot find a single player who was extended after losing more than half a season due to injury since 2008 according to MLBTradeRumors' extension tracker. And the only players extended after or in the midst of a season with a wRC+ lower than 100 were catchers, shortstops, Chris Young and Jose Altuve. Chris Young was a top prospect and a centerfielder. Altuve was extended for four years at 12.5 million with two options in July 2013. Already, this seems like a great bargain as Altuve has followed his 85 wRC+ in 2013 with a 129 wRC+ so far in 2014. Neither Davis nor Wieters is going to be extended for 12.5 million, but a similar discount is certainly possible.
Both Davis and Wieters are represented by Scott Boras, famous for not signing extensions before reaching free agency. This is not always the case, as Boras signed an extension for Jered Weaver with the Angels in 2011 and Elvis Andrus with the Rangers in 2013. Davis and Wieters are entering their final year of arbitration after this season. Both are unlikely to receive a significant raise over their salaries this year. Wieters is in line for about $8 million next season and Davis about $12 million. Where would you draw the line on the number of years and AAV for Wieters and Davis?
Miguel Montero's extension seems like a close match to Wieters's situation. Montero signed a five-year $60 million extension in May 2012, his last season under team control. Montero was a similar batter to Wieters in terms of overall production but with less defensive value. There has been an exponential growth in payroll since then, and the O's would definitely extend the same offer had Wieters been healthy. However, Montero did not have a major surgery before his extension, and despite the success rate of Tommy John surgery today, there is always risk involved. I think the higher amount of risk involved is cancelled out by the overflow of cash in baseball. I would not, however, give an extension of five years to Wieters. It is questionable how Wieters would recover from Tommy John surgery, and going above three years in addition to his last year of arbitration would be a steep price to pay. The reduction in length has to be balanced out by a raise in AAV for it to make sense for Wieters. Would a contract of three years at $15 million a year do the trick? That would make it an extension of four years of $53 million with the last year of arbitration included. I am almost certain that Boras would not accept the terms. Maybe raise the total guaranteed amount to $60 million and add a team option for the fifth year? Would Boras bite the bullet?
It is much more difficult to find a comparison for Davis, as he has only one outstanding season in his resume. All of the first basemen that have signed extensions at this stage of the career have a much longer history of elite bat, such as Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez. Even Freddie Freeman has a longer track record than Davis despite debuting in the majors two years later. Davis is truly unique in this regard. The question becomes your perception of his bat. Is he going to be 2013 Chris Davis, which he almost certainly is not? Or is he going to 2014 Chris Davis, which hopefully he is not? The answer, as always, is most likely somewhere in between. Both ZiPS and Steamer view him as a slightly better hitter than he was in 2012 as of today. That is an above-average first baseman. The market pays about 6 million per win in free agency last offseason. Davis would be worth about 15 million per year in the open market, but the O's should receive a discount as he is not yet a free agent at a point where his perceived value is much lower than that. Would four years for $48 million be enough? That would make the extension total five years and $60 million. Again, that does not seem like a figure Boras would settle for.
When I began this exercise, I thought it would be easy to come up with a contract that satisfies both the player and the team. It is much more difficult than I imagined. It is no wonder players don't sign extensions after a disappointing season or an injury. Teams need to protect against the possibility that the players do not regain their performance or recover from their injuries, while players generally view themselves at their peak abilities. It is one thing for someone like Altuve who has earned less than a million in the majors to sign an extension that guaranteed him at least $10 million when the clubs do not value him that highly. Both Davis and Wieters have collected close to $15 million in career earnings, and they have less of an incentive to take a discount to ensure their careers do not end in a flash. While this kind of extension can certainly look bad in retrospect, the O's should not always wait for a player to break out before extending them a la Adam Jones. Sometimes it might just be worth it to extend players having down seasons.